Mandatory standards dropped from proposed air quality directive

Claire Monkhouse from the IEEP looks at the latest developments at the European Commission

The European Commission has published its proposal for the long-awaited fourth daughter Directive of the Air Quality Framework Directive (96/62/EC).

The proposal addresses four heavy metals - arsenic, cadmium, mercury and nickel - and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). It would set criteria for monitoring and reporting of ambient air concentrations and deposition of the pollutants.

The proposal was supposed to have been published by the end of 1999, but its development has proved to be controversial. Earlier drafts contained mandatory air quality standards, but these were watered down.

Standards for the four metals have disappeared altogether as a result of industry concerns that the inclusion of indicative targets would raise public expectations that these could be met, when in reality there is no cost-effective way of doing so.

However, an indicate target for benzo(a)pyrene, which is being used as a proxy for PAHs, remains. The proposed directive would set thresholds for three of the four heavy metals (all but mercury) and for benzo(a)pyrene, above which fixed measurement of ambient air concentrations is mandatory.

It would also set requirements for the number and location of sampling points; criteria for the quality of data and any air quality models used; and reference methods for sampling and analysis of the pollutants.

It has already been criticised by NGOs for its lack of targets and focus on monitoring and reporting. Given experience with past air quality directives, it is likely that the European Parliament will also push for tougher requirements than those set out in the Commission's proposal. For example, it will push for the inclusion of indicative if not mandatory air quality targets for heavy metals.

See the proposal at:



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